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Articles from 1999 In August

Corn+Soybean Digest

Three At 300

Trophy yields and profit aren't always mutually exclusive. Even the three growers who topped 300 bu in last year's National Corn Growers Association National Corn Yield Contest figure their award-winning yields more than paid for input costs.

And, it's a good thing. In Plymouth, WA, Mark Millard's "contest plot" was the entire 1,200 acres he planted to irrigated field corn. The same holds true for Bruce McDaniel, Clayton, NM, who harvested his contest plot out of his 1,000 acres of irrigated corn.

There's too much soil variability for Francis Childs, Manchester, IA, to plant all his non-irrigated corn the same way. But on his better soils where he pulls out the stops for high yields, his 300+-bu crop covered his $650 an acre cost of production.

All three growers took some weather hits on their way to 300-bu yields. But thick stands of corn with roots set deep in moist soil packed with fertilizer were able to overcome adverse weather.

It takes more than just heavy applications of seed and fertilizer to grow 300-bu corn. Managing the crop from one harvest to the next puts these growers at the top of the charts.

"At harvest, we park grain carts on the edge of the field to avoid compaction. We also use flotation tires on the combine and radial tires at low pressure on our tractors," says Childs.

Under Iowa conditions, Childs figures he needs 12-14" of loose soil to grow big corn crops. He takes a different approach to tillage to get the conditions he wants.

"We use a minimoldboard plow that leaves more residue than a normal plow. It doesn't turn over as much," Childs says. "It does a better job of loosening the soil than a deep ripper."

All three plant around 40,000 seeds per acre. More important, says Millard, is making sure those seeds germinate and come up.

"There's a lot more to it than just setting your planter for 40,000 seeds/acre," he explains. "We're more careful at planting than we used to be. You have to make sure everything is adjusted correctly to have uniform spacing and depth. We use row cleaners for more uniform planting conditions and run at 3 1/2-4 mph in no-till conditions.

"We emphasize to our crew that we're not just driving a tractor," says Millard. "We're planting seeds rather than a corn crop."

He runs variety trials on at least eight hybrids each year at AgriNorthwest, where he is a unit manager.

"I'll try three to four of the standard Pioneer hybrids, three or four new numbers and maybe a couple of hybrids from competitors. By the time we're ready to try a new number in our fields, we already have two to three years' data on it."

As you might expect, these farmers don't spare the fertilizer when shooting for top yields. As Millard says, "It takes a lot of groceries." That meant applications of 350 lbs of N for the Washington farmer; 400 lbs for Childs and just under 250 lbs for McDaniel, plus a slug of nature's own fertilizer.

Farming next to feedlots gives New Mexico's McDaniel a ready source of manure for his fields. He applies up to 12 tons/acre. In addition, he makes five separate applications of fertilizer as he spoon-feeds his crop toward the top of the yield chart on deep, sandy soils.

"We put some ammonium sulfate on ahead of planting and then another 38 units of N as starter," he says. "We sidedress on another 30 units and then put some fertilizer on with the irrigation water." Separate applications of zinc and gypsum helped keep the fertilizer levels balanced in McDaniel's soils.

Adding liquid potassium chloride to his fertilizer program helped Millard boost yields. "We have low-organic-matter soils that will only release a certain amount of potassium. The corn uses twice what the soils will release," he says.

"The key to higher yields is to get your efficiency up in all areas of production. That means planting at the right speed, controlling weeds and getting water on at the right time," says McDaniel. "Timing is so critical when you're trying to get maximum yields."

Through the growing season, Iowa's Childs spends a lot of time checking his crop. Last year he checked his corn crop 68 times.

"I want to watch how the corn develops, check for disease and weed control. We do a lot of digging to see how the roots are doing," he says. "We know exactly what's happening. We may not be able to correct it for this year, but we can plan for next year."

Next year Childs will also bring narrow (20") rows to his production system.

"I thought I would have to go to narrow rows to hit 300 bu, but we got there without them," he says. "I think narrow rows will be the key to higher yields. We'll get better plant spacing and be able to use higher plant populations. Today's hybrids will stand a lot more population than people think they will. We'll also get better weed control with narrow rows."

And these farmers aren't looking for just contest-winning plot yields. They each expect their whole farm to yield like that.

"Last year we averaged 242 bu over our 1,000 acres. This year we want to hit 250 bu," says McDaniel. Adds Millard, "Our goal last year was 8 tons (286 bu) for the 1,200 corn acres and we ended up at 7.6 tons (271 bu)."

Corn+Soybean Digest

Processor Ponders Oil Premium

Would you switch soybean varieties for an extra 5-10 cents a bushel? One regional processor is hoping growers in its area will consider it.

Ag Processing, Inc. (AGP), headquartered in Omaha, NE, is weighing the feasibility of offering a higher-oil premium, possibly starting this fall.

Western Corn Belt soybeans generally run around 18% oil. That means there are 10 1/2-11 lbs of oil in every bushel. If soybean oil sells for 25 cents/lb, (price usually fluctuates between 17 and 30 cents), each 0.5% increase in oil content (roughly 0.3 lb) represents an extra 7.5 cents, with hardly any additional costs.

Oil yield is an obvious benefit to the processor, but the protein content of the meal is just as important, says Charles Hurburgh, Iowa State University ag engineer. He points out that higher oil at the same protein content in beans increases the percentage of protein in the meal. But if higher oil content is reached at the expense of protein, the meal's protein content may be lower.

"The total of oil and protein is a useful measure of overall value of the soybean," Hurburgh says.

That's the basic theory behind a two-year study being completed by AGP, which buys soybeans from Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota.

With help from Iowa State's grain quality team, headed by Hurburgh, AGP has been looking into the practicality and reliability of using near infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS) to quickly analyze soybeans at delivery. During this time, every load of soybeans going through AGP's Eagle Grove, IA, plant has been tested for oil and protein. Data collected show enough variation in oil content that the company is considering a higher-oil premium.

Cal Meyer, AGP soybean processing and marketing vice president, says while preliminary testing of the NIRS equipment looks promising, he can't say whether the company will be ready to offer a high-oil premium this fall.

"We'll be making that decision in mid- to late August," he says.

But even if the premium isn't in place for this year's harvest, he's confident that, by the 2000 harvest, AGP will be able to reward growers who deliver higher-oil soybeans.

Meyer encourages growers who sell to co-op elevators that own AGP to gather information on the potential oil content of varieties they're planning to plant. AGP will have limited data on the oil content of some varieties from its own and Iowa State tests. He's anticipating that seed companies, too, will begin providing composition information along with potential yield data.

"This information will help them select a variety or varieties suited to their farms that will give them the highest yields and oil production per acre," says Meyer.

If other processors follow AGP's lead into premiums for composition, the result would be a "raising of the bar." More high-value soybeans would be produced, while varieties consistently lower in oil, protein or other traits desired by processors would fall by the wayside.

Meyer sees the real impact of this sometime down the road.

"Right now the variation in oil content between varieties is measurable, but not highly significant. Premiums for oil would probably not be large at first."

If the oil premium is successful, however, Meyer expects seed companies to focus their plant breeding programs more on oil and begin to deliver new varieties with even higher oil content.

Corn+Soybean Digest

Sell New-Crop Soybeans Late

Typically, we have 24 months in which to market every crop - 12 months before harvest through 12 months after harvest. Traditionally, it has also paid to take advantage of this time by spreading both your sales and your risk.

In the last two years, marketing decisions have separated farmers' incomes dramatically. This coming year probably won't be much different. Three ingredients will be necessary for successful marketing over the coming months. They include:

Develop the proper attitude. Having a positive mental attitude in marketing is similar to having a positive mental attitude in sports. Knowing that over half of your success is determined by controlling your emotions of greed, hope and fear is significant. Luck plays a limited role in marketing.

Understand your decision-making environment. You don't need to be a large corporation to know how important this is. Knowing how and when to make a decision is crucial in marketing. If you're worried about someone within your own family second-guessing your decisions, it's nearly impossible to be logical. Too many people are "frozen" after the last two years and unable to make decisions in this environment.

The first step in solving any problem is to recognize what it is. This is one of the biggest issues facing farmers today.

Put the past behind. If you're still worried about last year's marketing mistakes, you'll never be able to concentrate on making good decisions this year. For new-crop soybeans, this will also likely be a year when you should collect your LDPs (loan deficiency payments) early and sell late.

Why? Actually, there are many reasons why this strategy will work over the coming 12 months. A few of them are:

* The opposite strategy has worked the last two years. Particularly the most recent year, it paid to be an aggressive forward seller on contracts and then collect the LDPs later when you were delivering against the contracts. Rarely does the same marketing strategy work two years in a row.

* Prices are cheap! At any price level, no matter how bearish the fundamentals are, ask, "Do we really have a surplus of $4 soybeans?" I think the answer is clear - we currently have a surplus of $7 beans and we'll run out of the $4 variety.

* Your neighbors will likely sell early this year because they learned their lessons last year - storing beans and speculating on them doesn't pay.

At the end of an extended bear market, which we've just witnessed, one of the most common mistakes producers make is to sell too early on the first rally.

It's human nature that people compare today's price to the highest or lowest price of the last six months. On the way down, people store because it's lower than where it has been. Once the market turns higher, people start to sell because it's higher than where it was last week. It's totally illogical, but that's just human nature.

Parting thoughts: Over the last 20 years, many people have given lip service to the importance of marketing. But it's really only in the last 12 months that many have started to take it seriously. With the concept of marketing loans, the rules have changed, which increases price volatility and risk.

It's never too late to learn marketing.

Corn+Soybean Digest

Maximize Your LDPs

'I bet the government will do whatever it can to rally soybean prices this fall, especially since the first $1.50 increase in prices will save them a lot in loan deficiency payments (LDPs), but not do me any good."

That comment was from a northwestern Iowa farmer at a seminar in late June. It's true that, with cash soybeans trading as much as $1.50/bu below loan in the western Corn Belt, the first $1.50 rally won't help most farmers. They'll get more from the elevator and less from government LDPs.

Also, if corn and soybean prices stay low into fall, many 800- to 1,000-acre growers could run up against the $75,000 payment limit.

With recent changes in the LDP program and the current low prices, finding the lows is just as important as finding the top price. You can also enhance your LDP profits by making the right merchandising decisions.

Using long-term price-cycle analysis, we can project some of the best times to lock in the lowest posted county price (PCP) and the largest LDP. Current analysis suggests a low in cash soybeans (and consequently the largest LDP) during the week of Aug. 27 or Sept. 17. The latest we could see a major low in the soybean market and change of trend is the week ending Nov. 5.

Which crop to sell and when to sell it becomes a little more complicated if you want to maximize LDP profits and receive the highest possible total income. The current reality is that, once new-crop soybeans drop below your county loan level, you face no additional financial risk from lower prices. That's because as your elevator price drops your LDP payment goes up.

Many of our customers are ready to buy call options or vertical call spreads late this summer to lock in big LDPs if it appears that prices are bottoming before the soybean harvest.

Corn prices have been higher, so we suggest a different marketing and merchandising strategy. For most of the spring and summer, even in the worst-basis areas of the western Corn Belt, new-crop corn bids have been 10-20 cents above the county loan levels. Bids for March 2000 delivery have been as much as 30-40 cents over the county loan.

It makes sense to sell corn ahead for March 2000 delivery. And if prices fall to a September, October or November bottom, be ready to lock in the largest LDP you can. Then deliver on the contracts in March. Some producers using this strategy last year netted up to $3/bu on cash corn.

In summary, make sure you take time now to write out your LDP plan and alternatives.

It's interesting to note that in the last nine months the lowest PCPs and largest LDPs have consistently occurred on the last day of the month or first day of the new month. Just as good market planning suggests that you would never sell your entire crop in one sale, consider locking in your LDPs three or four times.

We've written a special four-page report on how to maximize LDPs. For your free copy, write to NorthStar Commodity, P.O. Box 15086, Minneapolis, MN 55415-0086. You can also fax your request to 612-333-1520 or email us at

Corn+Soybean Digest

The SCN Fight: Round 2

The SCN Coalition answered the bell for an all-out fight against this heavyweight soybean profit stealer last year. Now, it's Round 2.

The goal of the now 12-state coalition: kick some butt against soybean cyst nematode. That culprit causes more than $1 billion in losses in the U.S. each year.

The cry of the coalition: "Take the test. Beat the pest."

Taking the test means having soil samples tested to identify SCN infestations. It's the first step toward knocking out this costly opponent with crop rotation and resistant varieties.

Did the coalition kick some butt? It sure got a good start.

Consider these results: The Iowa State University (ISU) Plant Disease Clinic processed 4,335 soil samples for SCN in 1998 - a 250% increase over the 1997 number.

"The number of samples submitted in 1998 was more than the total number of samples processed at ISU from 1993 to '97," reports Greg Tylka, ISU extension nematologist.

The University of Minnesota reported 3,200 requests for SCN soil tests, 300% more than in 1997. The University of Missouri had 8,000 requests in '98, a 101% jump. Ohio State University reported a 993% hike in requests; Purdue University, a 400% increase.

Wisconsin, where soybean acreage is relatively small but growing fast, had 425 requests - a whopping 1,600% increase.

Remember, private lab testing adds to tests done by university labs. In Illinois, for example, all testing is done by private labs, many whose personnel were trained by the University of Illinois Extension Service. In 1998, these labs processed 11,331 soil tests.

The SCN Coalition added two new partner states - Kansas and North Dakota - this year. They joined the ground-breaking partnership of state soybean boards and land grant universities from 10 North Central states. Those states include: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

There was some good news in these test results. For example, in Iowa, no SCN eggs were detected in 48% of those samples. And 28% had low egg densities. Samples were tested from every Iowa county except seven.

Nevertheless, sampling often isn't intense enough to catch detectable populations in every field tested. Small hot spots could be missed entirely. And Tylka estimates that more than 70% of Iowa fields may be infested. Similar estimates come from scientists in other states where soybeans have been grown intensively for a lot of years.

There's no way now, nor in the near future, that this profit-stealing bugger can be wiped out. But, the good news is that we have enough management answers right now that it can be controlled well enough to avoid most yield losses. And if you catch it early, you never need to accept big losses.

"I feel very strongly that it's better, as they say, to nip the problem in the bud rather than wait until you're suffering losses up to 8 bu/acre or more and then try to do something about it," says Dale Edwards, University of Illinois extension nematologist.

Regrettably and astonishingly, after all the information that has been given out this past year and in years before, situations that can only be characterized as "lack of knowledge or denial" still exist in some quarters, and not just among growers, insists Edwards.

"Believe it or not, I had a call from a grower who had sent a sample to a private lab, and they told him not to grow soybeans again. Now that's something to tell a farmer in Illinois or elsewhere in the Midwest, isn't it?"

Greg Noel, a USDA-ARS nematologist at the University of Illinois, agrees.

"There are still people running around saying that you don't need to worry about SCN until you see stunted, yellow soybeans. And we know that's simply not true," says Noel. "I guess you can only call that ignorance. Fortunately, the work by the coalition is helping to minimize that ignorance factor, and it is increasing grower knowledge as to how serious this nematode problem really is."

SCN can rip yields 5, 10 and even 15 bu/acre on highly productive ground in the Midwest - while showing little or no above-ground symptoms. In fact, warns Noel, by the time you notice typical above-ground symptoms, you very well may have been taken to the tune of $50/acre - or more.

There's no disagreement among nematologists on the importance of soil sampling for SCN. Edwards, a long-time nematode fighter, puts it this way: "If I were a farmer, I would sample all of my fields. I'd probably start with problem fields first. But, as soon as feasible, I'd get through all my fields.

"My advice to growers," he adds, "is if you have some unexplained drop in yield, look for cyst nematodes as one of the possible problems."

Eddie Hoff, a Boonville, MO, grower with several years of experience fighting SCN, whole-heartedly seconds that advice.

"If a farmer hasn't tested for cyst nematodes, and has hit a yield lid he can't break through, the odds are great that he has nematodes or nematodes in combination with some other disease he's not on top of," says Hoff.

Sums up Tylka: "Fortunately, soil sampling for this pest is easy, effective and relatively inexpensive. Early detection of SCN infestations is an extremely important first step to effective, integrated management of this pest. If you need help to find out how to start soil sampling for nematodes, simply contact your county extension office."

Corn+Soybean Digest

No Room At The Bin

When you roll out that combine this fall, you might want to consider rolling some bulkheads and a good temporary aeration system back in place, too. If you were counting on storing grain at the local elevator but haven't arranged it yet, you may be out of luck.

A railcar shortage was blamed for some of the unemptied elevators at harvest last year, but elevator managers in Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska report little problem in getting unit trains this summer. The big problem, they say, is getting farmers to turn over title to the grain so they can ship it out.

With low grain prices and sagging international demand, grain shipments have been down all across the Corn Belt.

"We're making good progress at shipping the grain we can," says Ron Gates, grain marketing manager at Heart of Iowa Cooperative, Roland, IA. "The problem is, most grain remaining in the elevator is on warehouse receipts. Unless prices improve significantly for both corn and soybeans, so growers are encouraged to sell, we're going to go into this harvest with less available space than in recent years."

Much of the grain in elevators is under federal crop loans. Growers who intend to sell when loans mature may want to consider turning over title to the elevator ahead of the maturity dates so shipping can be scheduled.

The storage situation ranges from barely adequate in some areas to as much as 25% short in others. Bob Wisner, Iowa State University extension grain marketing specialist, says just a 4-bu increase in the national average corn yield would create a real storage pinch.

Wisner recommends watching USDA crop condition reports closely for clues as to how big the corn crop might be.

"In late June, USDA said 75% of the U.S. corn crop was in good-to-excellent condition," he points out. "If that percentage is as high in August, we're probably going to have a shortage of storage."

Of course, it's all related to local situations. For example, some growers report as much as 10% of their planted corn drowned out in low spots that weren't replanted. Also, where corn planting was delayed and some growers switched to soybeans, storage will be less of a problem because beans produce less volume.

In the East, where drought has decimated crops, storage should be more than ample, although that isn't necessarily good news. But unless late-season drought cuts yields, grain piled on the ground will likely be a familiar sight all across the Corn Belt.

Having established that storage may be tight, here are some suggestions:

Free up storage space. At this point, emptying your on-farm bins by trucking corn or beans to the elevator where you place it on warehouse receipts may be counterproductive. It will solve your own problem, but could add to an overall storage pinch in your community. Emptying your bins will help, though, if you can get grain into the hands of users.

If you have grain stored at the local elevator and can find a way to help the manager schedule transportation based on what looks to be a reasonable price in the future (using forward pricing), you'll give him the tools he needs to make more room for the new crop.

Wisner cautions against entering into late-summer price-later contracts.

"Price-later contracts are credit sales agreements that increase the farmer's risk in case of elevator failure," he says. "Also, in the period of tight storage there's substantial price and basis risk and price-later contracts expose farmers to both at the same time.

"If the market offers a reasonable price, even if it's a 'deliver now' situation, don't waste any time getting old-crop corn and soybeans moved out," says Wisner. "Ownership of grain can be retained with call purchases at or out of the money."

Mike Turner, University of Nebraska extension grain marketing specialist, recommends staying in touch with your elevator manager about storage availability and the size of your crop.

"Elevators in our area may require that growers sell a quarter or a third of the crop at delivery before they will allow delivery on warehouse receipts," says Turner. "That way, they'll be able to allocate space among all customers. When they get title to the grain, they'll be able to ship it or store it outside in piles with less risk to the customer."

Wisner notes that a common strategy in years when storage is tight is to delay harvest and give the elevator time to ship out some new grain.

"That decision needs to be weighed against crop condition, field losses and how it will affect other fall field operations," Wisner says. "It may be an alternative, but in many cases it's a high-cost one."

He suggests considering temporary storage in machine sheds, unused barns, silos or empty livestock buildings if grain quality can be maintained and structural strength is adequate. A couple of cautions: Check with extension ag engineers or other building specialists regarding reinforcement and aeration needs, and have a plan for emptying the building before you put grain in.

Final note: At press time, Congress was considering a bill to fund a three-year grain-reserve program. It could provide funding for new storage, so stay in touch with your Farm Service Agency office.

"If you have a long-term need for storage, this may be the year to get started on it - if you can find a contractor," Wisner says.

Corn+Soybean Digest

Who Will Bin Your Biotech Corn?

The same science that protects your corn from weeds and insects may limit your markets for its grain this fall. The European Union's (EU) refusal to approve some bioengineered corn hybrids has grain companies skittish about accepting grain from genetically modified (GM) plants.

"The EU appears to have drawn a line in the sand and I don't think we'll see any movement in regard to tolerance by harvest," says Scott McFarland, industry relations director for the National Corn Growers Association.

Soybeans, on the other hand, face no restrictions in the EU markets, according to Jim Hershey, American Soybean Association division director for Europe. "Farmers can be very secure in the knowledge that GM soybeans have the same commodity value of any other soybeans," he says.

Large grain processors like ADM and A.E. Staley announced early in the season that they won't accept unapproved GM corn at their processing plants that serve the export market. ADM will accept GM corn at its plants that serve domestic markets. ConAgra, however, will accept and segregate GM corn from standard corn.

As a result, country elevators will need to keep GM corn separate from non-GM corn to protect their markets. Some grain elevators likely won't be accepting GM corn at harvest and farmers will need to store their grain on farm, separate from the rest of their crop, for later delivery.

"It will particularly affect farmers in the Illinois River corridor where a large volume of grain goes to export and corn processing," says McFarland. "We need to stress it's the individual grower's responsibility to make sure GM corn stays in domestic channels."

"We need to be smart about this as an elevator. Roughly 2-4% of the corn crop in east-central Illinois is non-approved GM hybrids. If we say we aren't going to take GM corn, we're going to get it anyway," says Larry Wood, manager at The Andersons' Champaign, IL, facility.

"Everybody will be on the honor system. If growers have unapproved GM corn we just ask that they notify us when they bring it in," Wood says. "We unload 60 trucks an hour so there's no way, within reason, to test each load.

"We'll take it wet or dry. We'll segregate it but we won't discount it," he says. "The most important thing is that producers give us a fair shake so we can keep unapproved grain separate."

Many farmers returned their corn seed from unapproved hybrids and swapped it for other hybrids, according to Wood. Industry estimates peg the unapproved GM corn crop at roughly 5% of all the GM corn planted.

There is no space to segregate GM from non-GM grain at Hintzsche Grain & Feed, Inc., Maple Park, IL. "A lot of elevators are in the same situation. It takes a whole different receiving and drying system," says Glen Ludwig, grain manager at Hintzsche.

"We told our growers last spring if they planted non-approved GM hybrids they needed to be prepared to segregate it and store it at home, if the marketplace demands segregation this fall. Our elevator won't be able to segregate non-approved GM corn this harvest.

"We're incorporating language in our purchase contracts that obligates growers to tell us if they're bringing in GM corn," says Ludwig.

Earlier this summer the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) sent its members several suggestions to consider when writing grain contracts this fall. While not making a formal recommendation, NGFA listed three alternative paragraphs that deal with unapproved GM corn.

The least restrictive suggestion details the seller's obligation to tell the buyer what variety of corn is being delivered and states the seller may receive a discounted price for the grain if discounts exist at delivery. A more stringent alternative for grain companies to consider is a paragraph that states the seller can't deliver unapproved GM corn. The third option addresses only unapproved GM corn grown in 1999.

"Addressing these issues up front, we should help avoid misunderstandings and disputes over unapproved GM corn at the local delivery level," says Randy Gordon, vice president of communications at NGFA.

No matter what contract language is used, Hintzsche's Ludwig knows he'll have to rely on farmers' integrity for notification.

"I don't expect to have the ability to test. I don't know if the tests available commercially work or if I could afford or operationally do the testing during harvest," he says. "If I can't segregate it, why ask?"

Ludwig questions whether farmers themselves will always have the answer.

"Many times drivers delivering to our elevators don't know what varieties they're hauling," he says. "They'll need to do a better job of knowing what hybrids they plant in each field and keep track of the grain at harvest.

This year's harvest issue with GM corn is just the tip of a very big iceberg, believes Ludwig. "It's a loud wake-up call," he says. "As we look back at 1999, six to seven years from now, we're going to be saying, wow, were we naive."

Growers unsure about the status of the corn hybrids they planted should contact their dealer to determine if the GM hybrids have been approved for export to the EU. For a list of elevators, feed mills and feed processors that will accept unapproved GM corn, growers can call toll-free 800-833-5252 or 800-768-6387.

Also, in mid-July the American Seed Trade Association began a telephone survey of roughly 25,000 grain purchasers to create a data base listing who will accept unapproved GM corn. The information should be available on the group's Web site ( before harvest.

Corn+Soybean Digest

Code Warriors

When you deliver corn and soybeans this fall, elevators and processors will take your word about whether your bushels carry biotech genes.

But, perhaps as early as this winter, each load to the elevator may take about 20 minutes longer than usual. That's enough time for an elevator employee to run some type of quick lab test to tell whether you're delivering what the Europeans call a genetically modified organism (GMO).

Such a test won't be a question of your integrity as much as an attempt to catch honest mistakes that could cause a buyer to reject thousands of bushels.

Here's a roundup of the tests available at presstime. Recognize that the tests can identify only a single, specific trait at a time. That means running several tests to find what biotech genes, if any, are present. And each test will cost someone money.

Strategic Diagnostics Inc. (SDI), Newark, DE, and EnviroLogix Inc., Portland, ME, have dipstick test kits using immunoassay technology to identify the proteins associated with different bioengineered crops.

You insert a paper dipstick about 3" long and 1/4" wide into the test tube that contains a ground up seed and a chemical. Then you read the dipstick for positive or negative results. The 20-minute test costs about $3.50.

Seed companies have used an SDI dipstick to confirm the 98% purity of Roundup Ready cotton. SDI has developed tests for the seed industry to identify Bt and herbicide resistance genes and is adapting dipsticks for the grain trade.

The EnviroLogix dipstick tests, called QuickStix, can recognize the YieldGard Bt in corn kernels or the NatureGard and KnockOut Bt in leaf tissue. The company is working on test kits for other Bt types, too.

Iowa State University has a patent pending on a process that uses nearinfrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS) to identify Roundup Ready soybeans. The researchers are studying whether the test will identify other biotech genes as well.

Grain companies and processors can use a process called the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to check for DNA. Genetic ID Inc., Fairfield, IA, is one of several companies with this sophisticated technology that can report the amount of GMO in raw and processed soybeans, corn and canola. The test takes two to three days and costs about $400.

Corn+Soybean Digest

Late-Season Water Tops Off Yield

Drive by a Baugh Plantation soybean field during the first week of September and you'll likely see a center-pivot irrigation system watering the nearly mature crop.

Is that too late to be irrigating soybeans?

"We found out many years ago that we need to water our soybeans much longer than we once thought," answers Coleman Connell, who operates the Sherard, MS, plantation with his father, Oscar.

Connell says they usually gain at least 5 bu/acre from that late-season irrigation.

During last year's hot, dry growing season, a 160-acre field of Group V beans was irrigated 14 times, with 1" of water applied each time.

"The last circle was put out on Sept. 7," reports Mike Williamson, Connell's farm manager. "We averaged 62 bu/acre."

In 1997, a more typical year, a similar field was irrigated six times. A 1-lb shot of Benlate was applied about Aug. 1, and the last watering came in early September. Connell says the late irrigation-Benlate combination "really filled out the beans - caused them to be heavy and healthy."

The field averaged 64 bu/acre. "Our dryland average wasn't all that bad - 43 bu/acre," Connell reports. "But that didn't compare to the late irrigation-Benlate soybeans."

Larry Heatherly, USDA-ARS research agronomist at Stoneville, MS, says most Midsouth soybeans are grown on shrink-swell clay soils.

"Based on much research and other information, if the soybeans are surface-irrigated, flood or furrow, we prefer to see the last irrigation applied between mid-pod-fill and full seed," says Heatherly.

"With these clay soils that shrink when dry, the grower applies 2 1/2-3" of water with each irrigation event," he explains. "That would be enough water to carry the crop to full maturity."

Since most pivots don't put out as much water as surface systems, Heatherly suggests that the last sprinkler application be done at full seed to ensure there's enough water in the soil to completely fill out the seeds.

"The real key is educating growers to understand what full seed is," he states. "The seed must be touching in the pod. And we want the soil to be reasonably moist at full seed to carry the plants to full maturity."

It's better to water a bit too late than to stop too early, he says.

"If there is any doubt in the grower's mind - the seed are almost touching in the pod and there are dry conditions - then he should water. Every bit of material that will go into the seed at the end of the growing season will amount to several bushels per acre."

Heatherly remembers inadvertently missing one late-pod-fill irrigation in some April-planted Group V beans.

"The result was quite profound - the loss of 10 bu/acre," he reports.

The research agronomist says cotton is much more sensitive to overwatering than soybeans.

"In reality, soybeans are quite simple to irrigate. Most problems with soybean irrigation are mismanagement or undermanagement," he says.

"The information is out there, but many soybean producers have other agendas or don't believe in the irrigation of soybeans strongly enough. I have found that soybean farmers who really manage their irrigation make good yields year after year after year," Heatherly concludes.